Notes and Editorial Reviews
THE ROMANTIC FLUTE
Jeffrey Khaner (fl); Hugh Sung (pn)
AVIE 2131 (73:48)
op. 167, “Undine.”
Jeffrey Khaner, principal flutist for the Philadelphia Orchestra (since 1990, and before that, of Cleveland) continues his traversal of flutish impulses spanning many and varied genres and styles. This time we have a collection of Romantic “favorites” from the backwaters of the 19th century; pieces that may not register very high on your recognize-it meter, but are worthwhile explorations of the period quite apart from the pieces’ flute-specific proclivities.
We all know Charles-Marie Widor, though I would wager that his name recognition travels faster than his actual music, being relegated to organists, by and large. This is a shame, for the limited amount of non-organ music that I have encountered by him often surpasses in quality many of his organ works. A case in point is this Suite. It is a wonderfully integrated and most intelligent work that swirls the romantic juices while also giving both instruments quite a workout. One can understand why the piano part would be quite vigorous, given Widor’s organ background, but evidently his association with one of the greatest flute-players of the time, Paul Taffanel (1844–1908), bore significant fruit in this work, one that the flutist described as having the “happiest effect from the contrasting timbres of the flute and piano.” It is surely worth knowing, and Khaner’s reading belongs in the top tier, along with Galway (RCA) and Pahud (EMI—a great performance, though Adrian Corleonis had some real reservations about the sound in
My favorite performance may be the beautiful sonata by Carl Reinecke (1824–1910). This one-time conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra also boasted of friendships with Mendelssohn, the Schumanns, and Liszt, wrote much music that is only now starting to be reassessed. This sonata should certainly help, one of his finest chamber pieces, and one that attempts a fully integrated sonata-form structure for the instrument. The music is quite sentimental, and quite over-the-top in its romantic excesses, something that really did not serve the composer well as he got older and more modern musical maniacs like Wagner began to achieve ascendancy. But if one accepts the composer on his own terms, the rewards can be great. Galway (again on RCA) and Susan Milan (Chandos) have both contributed to the renaissance, yet Kahner holds his own.
Benjamin Godard (1849–95) was a minor composer who nonetheless got published early (by the time he was 20), but struggled his whole life to get performed. He was modestly prolific, with symphonies, operas, concertos, and chamber music to his credit, and has been modestly represented on silver disc in the modern age. This Suite is very pleasant and creative, but will do little to rehabilitate him out of the land of middling composers. Likewise Saint-Saëns’s fine but forgettable
—a nice filler, but obviously included for just that purpose.
I am quite pleased with all aspects of Khaner’s sound and performances, respectfully disagreeing with Lawrence Johnson (26: 2—who considered Khaner’s music-making monochrome), and understanding completely Jerry Dubins’s concern over a recording the artist did of the Brahms clarinet sonatas (29:4). This is strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Steven E. Ritter
This is a well-programmed disc of Romantic flute repertoire, and comprises mainstream repertoire works by Widor, Godard, Reinecke, Franck and Saint-Säens.
Widor’s four movement suite was composed for Paul Taffanel and premiered in a concert promoted by the Chamber Music Society for Wind Instruments. Khaner plays with a sense of rounded style, careful phrasing and flowing lines, and his rich tone is unforced and expressive. The fast-moving semiquavers in the flute part are particularly impressive, for their evenness of tone and technique.
Khaner takes the
Allegretto movement of Godard’s
Suite a little faster than some other players, but the effect is sparkling and light. The
Idyll is not allowed to wallow and flows gently with a good sense of balance between spacious phrases and forward momentum. The final waltz is well-paced and played with a refreshing attention to detail.
Undine sonata is a challenging work which requires a strong sense of duo between players. Khaner and Sung do an excellent job here, with a good sense of balance and ebb and flow between parts. Undine was a water nymph, and the sound of the water can be clearly detected in the first movement of the Sonata. The sparkling Intermezzo features staccato semiquavers which are played here with precision and clarity of articulation. The
Andante tranquillo is played with a warm sound and tender phrasing, while the tempestuous finale builds tension and momentum with good dramatic effect.
There is a long tradition of making arrangements of violin sonatas for the flute, and Franck’s A major Sonata is one such example. There are many different arrangements of this work, and the one heard here is Khaner’s own. This is a 25 minute work in four movements, which, like the Reinecke, has a prominent part for the piano, creating a true duo rather than solo instrument with accompaniment. Khaner and Sung create a range of moods and atmospheres well, with turbulent sections of building tension contrasting with more gentle moments of calm. Khaner is a master of tone colours, creating variety in his sound and convincingly enhancing the direction of the lines.
The disc ends with Saint-Säens’
Romance, a short work in the style of a Song Without Words, performed here with a wonderful sense of unforced intimacy, with Khaner’s flute line played with a mellow tone over a shimmering piano accompaniment.
Throughout the disc, Khaner and Sung demonstrate their world-class mastery of their instruments. Their performances are musically engaging and technically commanding, with impressive attention to detail and a strong sense of duo between the players.
-- Carla Rees, MusicWeb International
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